Eastern Province scraped past KwaZulu-Natal 23-22 on day four of the U18 Craven Week in Stellenbosch on Thursday.
With the victory, EP earned the right to defend their unofficial title against Western Province in Saturday's main game.
In an ill-disciplined affair that produced three yellow cards and a red card, flyhalf Bader Pretorius opened the scoring with a penalty goal for KZN, but that's as good as it got for the side from Durban in the first half. Soon after the break, they were reduced to 14 boys and EP's eighthman Khewzi Mafu powered over the tryline for a converted effort. Once KZN were down to 13 players, following a straight red card to hooker Hendrik Prinsloo, EP's influential flyhalf Curwin Bosch slotted a neat drop goal for a 10-3 advantage halfway through the match.
They stretched further ahead thanks to a five-pointer by outside centre Heino Bezuidenhout, with Bosch in tow to convert again. Despite the numerical disadvantage, KZN narrowed the gap to two points with tries by No 8 Marco Palvie and Pretorius. EP's cause wasn't helped by the double sin-binning of flank Malan Marais in the 53rd and 73rd minutes of the game. Bosch stepped up when the occasion demanded it again, successfully negotiating two long-range penalty goals to put some breathing space between the teams at 23-15.
Palvi crossed late in the match for his second try. But even with Pretorius' last-gasp conversion, they fell agonisingly short of the target.
Meanwhile, the Golden Lions slumped to a 28-19 defeat against the SWD Eagles. The team from George got off to a storming start and were rewarded with two first-half tries by right wing Bradley Kiewitz and flyhalf Christo Hamman. Outside centre Imanuel Libbok slotted both conversions for a 14-0 lead at the interval. The Lions pulled 12 points back directly after the break, but conceded another two converted tries in quick succession to trail 28-12. In the 68th minute, Lions fullback Ivan Smit burrowed over for his second try of the match, which he successfully converted, but it was scant reward as they slumped to their second loss of the week.
In Thursday's other results, flyhalf Xander Crause accrued 14 points as the Valke overturned a half-time deficit to beat Griquas 34-21; Eastern Province Country Districts brushed aside Zimbabwe 51-20, despite trailing by five points at half-time; and the Leopards clinched a nail-biting 18-17 win over Griquas Country Districts.
Eastern Province (23) – Tries: Khewzi Mafu, Heino Bezuidenhout. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2). Penalties: Bosch (2). Drop goal: Bosch.
KwaZulu-Natal (22) – Tries: Marco Palvie (2), Bader Pretorius. Conversions: Pretorius (2). Penalty: Pretorius.
SWD Eagles (28) – Tries: Imanuel Libbok, Nevada Jacobs, Christo Hamman, Bradley Kiewitz. Conversions: Libbok (4).
Golden Lions (19) – Tries: Ivan van Zyl (2), Len Massyn. Conversions: Van Zyl (2).
Valke (34) – Tries: Xander Crause, Irvin Ali, Damon Karelse, Dylan van der Walt (2). Conversions: Crause (3). Penalty: Crause (1).
Griquas (21) – Tries: Cameron Huffke (2). Conversion: Gert Nortjé. Penalties: Nortjé (2). Drop goal: Nortjé.
Eastern Province CD (51) – Tries: Joshua Nieuwoudt, Chulu Chutu, Grant Dixie (2), Gevanhier Blom (3). Conversions: Geoffrey Dakin (5). Penalties: Dakin (2).
Zimbabwe (20) – Tries: Ernest Mudzengerere, Stuart Marriott-Dodington, Tinotenda Vheriwa, Russel Dinha.
Leopards (18) – Tries: Lionel George, Ryno Visagie. Conversion: André Kock. Drop goals: Kock (2).
Griquas CD (17) – Tries: Denvill Joseph, penalty try. Conversions: Adri du Plessis, Renier Fortuin. Penalty: Fortuin.
Final day fixtures:
09:00 – Eastern Province CD vs Griquas
09:00 – Zimbabwe vs Namibia U18
10:15 – Border vs Valke
10:30 – Pumas vs Free State
10:30 – Griquas CD vs Border CD
11:45 – Blue Bulls vs Boland
12:00 – Golden Lions vs Griffons
12:00 – Leopards vs Limpopo Blue Bulls
13:15 – KZN vs SWD Eagles
15:00 – Western Province vs Eastern Province
Photo: Petri Oeschger/Gallo Images